Anyone else counting down the days until Virgin Hotels newest property opens up shop in the Dallas Design District? And, if you're anything else like us, one of the aspects we're looking most forward to is all of the amazing art that the building will boast, thanks so the incredible eye + expertise of mixed-media artist and curator, Lesli Marshall. Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Lesli to learn more about her, her many talents, and what she's got in store for the new hotel that will soon call the DDD home.
Tell us about your background and how you came to be the mixed-media art curator that you are today.
I grew up in Grapevine, Texas and was a student-athlete. For years, basketball was pretty much my life, until it started to become more like a job than a hobby. That said, I was also super creative as a kid. At school, I was a self-proclaimed “weirdo” and never missed an opportunity to dress up in full costume.
I received my Associates of Arts degree from Brookhaven College and greatly enjoyed my time there. I loved the classes I took with woodworking being my favorite. After graduation, I worked at an ad agency and spent time bartending on the side. I was stuck in a “now what” phase. I truly wasn’t sure what was next for me until I came across an opening for an Art Consultant position. I didn’t know much about the position, but I landed the job.
I wanted to branch out and grow more within the industry, so I started my own business in September of 2017. I was crazy-excited but also extremely nervous.
How do you typically find your projects?
In the beginning, I really had to hustle. I’d set up vendor meeting after vendor meeting with architecture and design firms. I held lunch and learns up to three times a day to educate businesses on my capabilities and how I could specifically help fill their creative need or void. To be honest, these lunch and learns were not my favorite. I’d get so nervous that I’d end almost every presentation drenched in sweat. I even started wearing black to hide it! But the more I did the presentations, the better I became at them. After about a month, I got my very first lead. It actually came on a post-it note for a bank job out in Frisco that was going to be remodeling and needed someone to lead the project.
Now, I don’t do marketing whatsoever and almost every project I take on is referral based. Whether it’s an architecture or design firm whose vision I help bring to life, a commercial interior that I take the lead on or an art program that I curate, I love how each and every job is so different. It keeps things interesting and with approximately 28 ongoing projects, there is plenty to keep us intrigued and on our toes!
Any person or place that inspires you?
Both! The work of Jean-Michel Basquiat I find to be incredibly inspiring. Basquiat was a graffiti artist who emerged out of the New York City Punk scene in the late ’70s and ’80s. Over the course of his career, Basquiat quickly became one of the most celebrated American painters of the Neo-Expressionism art movement.
As for a place, there is nowhere quite like my family farm, The Long Branch in Llano, Texas. My great-grandfather built the house in 1905 on our 10 and-a-half acre property. It brings me infinite inspiration and is truly my magical place. Since the farm is such a source of joy and inspiration for me, I thought why not share it with others? My family and I purchased it at the end of 2017, renovated it by April 2018, and now rent it out through Airbnb. I figure it’s the perfect escape for creatives seeking solitude.
Tell us about how the Virgin Hotel project came to be.
Originally, my name wasn’t on or anywhere close to the list of potential candidates, but I happened to be at a luncheon that Bill Hutchinson was attending. We ended up discussing the project and I knew I would be a great fit. I went home and put together a huge pitch deck, set a separate meeting with Bill and hoped for the best. I wasn’t all that optimistic, and they interviewed a ton of candidates. It seemed like a bit of a longshot. Thankfully, Bill and I saw eye-to-eye on so many aspects of the project that I ultimately landed the job. Ever since then it’s been a match made in Virgin Hotel heaven! Bill and I have had the same vibe and vision from the beginning. I couldn’t be more thankful to Bill and the entire Virgin team for wholeheartedly trusting and having faith in my ideas and concepts (however crazy some may be)!
What has been the best part of the project thus far, and the biggest challenge thus far?
Everything about the project so far has been amazing. The best part has been getting to work with such an incredibly talented and eclectic group of people. Having the opportunity to collaborate with Bill and all the other designers, artists and the internal Virgin team has been a once in a lifetime experience, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
On the flipside, the biggest challenge thus far has been going above and beyond to make sure that the result is truly unique and not like any hotel project that I or anyone else has done before. Ultimately, I want to make sure the finished product reflects the overall Virgin brand but is still fresh, innovative and alluring.
Any insight on artists or unique works we can expect to see?
We have such killer art coming in! The overall vibe will be sexy, fresh and playful. A couple of my favorite artists, like Drew Merritt and Michael Reeder (pictured below), will have pieces featured. There will be some amazing custom sculptures throughout the property and even a few pieces on loan from Bill’s personal art collection, which is incredibly cool and a huge honor.
Other than the Virgin Hotel, any other unique or notable upcoming gigs?
Yes! I’m super pumped to be curating an upcoming art show in Paris. It will be all American Artists in Paris while teaming up with Fode Sylla of Touba London. The mix will be incredible. Our goal is to create this same pop-up style show all throughout the UK and Asia.
As far as local gigs, I was just brought on by the Ranger’s for a super cool collaboration, but I can’t say too much about it...for now!
To learn more about Lesli and all of her different specialties and projects, visit her website, and give her a follow on Instagram. And, be sure to stay tuned for exclusive updates on all things Virgin Hotels Dallas!